Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Deja Hou: Purple Time Space Swamp

Dean Liscum

On January 11th, galleryHomeland held "Homeland Soup", which served as the awards ceremony for the Charge Practicum Grants. Attendees paid $5-$10 for soup, entertainment by Daniel and the Thunder Heads, the presentation of the Charge Grants, and a chance to vote on the first recipient of the Homeland Soup grant.

The proceeds from the dinner funded the Homeland Soup grant. Contenders for the soup grant were
The winner was Mr. Boncy with Purple Time Space Swamp, which is an ongoing collection of digital photographs of the vast sprawl that we call Houston, that is Houston proper and it's many parasitic suburbs. 

Boncy and his posse, which may or may not consist of more than himself (learn more about Boncy in Hungry Ghost Collective's interview of him), publish an average of 50 photographs a month on PTSS's tumblr site. The photos are NOT copyrighted and are free to the public. 

I've lived in Houston for a while and browsing PTSS's photos feels like an exercise in my own personal cultural anthropology, If you've lived in Houston for any length of time and navigated any of Houston's wards and its many suburbs, you'll almost certainly experience an extended bout of deja vu. Although his method for shot selection is unclear (other than photographing Houston), the artistry of them is not. PTSS is not a selfie-diot's collection pushed to tumblr. These photos are well executed.  Each photo is the result of an awareness of light and composition while being willing to accept the bland utilitarianism that comprises so much of Houston's architecture: from strip mall to suburban street to midtown make over.

In other words (Robert Boyd's to be exact), PTSS is an ironic homage to "a soul-crushing blandness that typifies Houston...a drab matter-of-fact-ness that might make some viewers crave the bullet." But it's also a thoughtful, sober introspection of the city. One experiences it as a self-analysis that's not good or bad, but rather honest and unblinking.

Here are a few examples...

Boncy will use the Homeland Soup grant to fund the next phase of the project, print-on-demand (POD) collections of the PTSS photos. In my opinion, it will be money well spent.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Let's Get Physical: Emily Peacock at the Hello Project

Dean Liscum

It's bad manners and it goes against all art world decorum but you just want to touch the photographic works in Emily Peacock's exhibition Soft Diet at the Hello Project. The works beg you to gently run your finger tip over the crevices of teeth, to press your palm into the pile of finger nail clippings, to smear the jello from edge to edge, to write your name in the pink and white smears. But it's not your fault, it's hers. She wants you to.

Incisor, Canine, Premolar, Molar, 30 x 38 inches, Archival Giclee Print Mounted on Aluminum 2014

Gently Cleans, 20 x 20 inches, Archival Giclee Print Mounted on Aluminum

Even though that's a weak-ass excuse to offer any docent, it's true. Peacock acknowledges the imminent extinction of the snapshot, of the photograph as a physical object, a picture on a piece of paper. This exhibition attempts to recapture their fleeting prominence and presence in our lives. The physicality of Peacock's photos is purposeful and stunning. The images are strikingly sensual. The sculptural composition of the photographs of objects placed on top of other photographic images are so sharp and present as to engage one's sense of the hyperreal. Your impulse is to touch them. But you can't because they're just photographs.

These are nostalgic images for Peacock and for us. For Peacock, who often works within her own personal history either using friends and family members to recreate works as in her series You, Me, and Diane and Pieta or as subject themselves as in Reenactments and A Matter of Kinship, they are her story. For us, they are popular images from the culture of our youths, the not too distant past of ball pits and Thanksgiving Day rituals. Peacock's obfuscation of these images with food and finger nails make it unsettling and immediate tapping into the vague memories of what should have been childhood nirvana but wasn't.

Refrigerate Until Served, 30 x 45 inches, Archival Giclee Print Mounted on Aluminum, 2014 

As I've already alluded to, the technical mastery casts its own sensual spell.

Nail Appearance, 30 x 45 inches, Archival Giclee Print Mounted on Aluminum, 2014

Beyond the expert execution of these images and their acknowledgement of physical photograph's cultural attrition, there is a second layer of meaning, a second attempt at salvation, the battle against mortality. In her statement about the show, Peacock mentions that she started making the series when her mother was diagnosed with stage 4 brain cancer. She confronts it with all her humanity. Her most potent weapon in this battle is the video.

Soft Diet, 5:22, Looping Video, 2014

In the eponymous video Soft Diet, she uses a combination of sexuality and silliness. A pair of gloved hands stroke, caress. and massage a jello mold like the ones served at hospitals. As the video progresses, the hands move more vigorously, until the fingers penetrate and destroy it.

In the Iodine Money Shot Challenge, Peacock conflates the porn industry's money shot trope with the icebucket challenge craze. She uses iodine as her currency, which moves the video's anticipatory antics of heavy breathing and wide-eyed staring from sexual satisfaction or charity martyrdom to the anxiety of a patient awaiting the dressing of a wound or an ominous prognosis. And yes, it's as disturbing and poignant as it sounds.

Distribution and Habitat, 2:07, Looping Video, 2014

In Distribution and Habitat, a hand covered in an institutional blue glove opens to reveal an earthworm that then slowly crawls away from its confines. Metaphorically it could be us fleeing our own mortality or the medical institutions that attempt to protect and profit from that mortality.
My Father, 14 x 20 inches, Archival Giclee Prin,t 2014 

My Father is a photograph that directly addresses the subject of mortality. Its composed of two images. One images portrays him softly, blurred in the foreground while focusing on the lush scenery behind him. The other image portrays him in sharp detail revealing every wrinkle and pore in front of a dark, shadowy landscape. This photographic diptych captures the essence of the videos and her artistic strategy against loss and mortality. She combats it with life in all its sensuousness, sexuality, and humor.

Peacock's biographical information helps in the deconstruction of these photographs, but it's unnecessary for the enjoyment of them. Once again, she's turned the camera on herself and her life and in doing so helped us all reflect on ours -- lost teeth, jagged nails, white smears and all.

88% Of Moms Agree Nothing Works Faster,30 x 45 inches,Archival Giclee Print Mounted on Aluminum, 2014 

Monday, January 12, 2015

Contextually Speaking: A couple of BLACK GUYS, Tu, and You

Dean Liscum

In December I attended two art events that captured my imagination, 24 hours at the Lightnin' Hopkins Bus Stop by THE BLACK GUYS, and Planned Obsolesce by Alex Tu. On the surface, they could not be more dissimilar, but underneath they shared some concepts and methods.

(Photo by Robert Pruitt)

24 hours at the Lightnin' Hopkins Bus Stop by THE BLACK GUYS, which consists of Robert Hodge and Phillip Pyle the Second, was held from 10 a.m. December 10th to 10 a.m. December 11th. The event was one from their series THE BLACK GUYS in which Hodge and Pyle recreate and/or appropriate a series of the Art Guys' (Michael Galbreth and Jack Massing) performances as well as present some original pieces. 24 hours is based on the Art Guys 1995 event entitled Stop-N-Go, where Galbreth and Massing worked as clerks at a convenience store for 24 hours straight.

The duration of the piece was the primary commonality between the Art Guys performance and that of the THE BLACK GUYS. After that, the works diverged. Where as the Art Guys performance may have had some political overtones: protesting the 90s commodification of the art market and drawing attention to the plight of the convenience store clerk, THE BLACK GUYS piece was explicitly political. In publicity about the event, Hodge and Pyle stated that their objective was to temporarily reclaim the Lightning Hopkins bus stop, to which Hodge had contributed a customized bench and large sign when Hopkins was honored by the city of Houston. Since the commemoration, the local drug trade at the 24-hour Gulf station across the street has spilled over to the bus stop. It serves more as an open air market than as public service or a commemorative space. When I spoke with Phillip around midnight, according to his unscientific research, he'd only seen 3 people catch the bus at that site.

Photo by Lovie Olivia 

Hodge and Pyle's downplayed the political aspect of the piece. They described their performance as "spending 24 hours" at the Lightning Hopkins bus stop at Dowling and Frances. They made it participatory, inviting fans, art appreciators, friends, and residence of the neighborhood to join them. And come they did. In their video about the event, a constant parade of friends, fans, fellow artists, neighbors, and patrons stream by. People brought food, drinks, music, and even a portable fire pit fueled with recycled cooking oil to keep them warm. Both artist had brought books and videos in case no one showed, but I doubt either had time to open a book or start video.

The power of the TBG's piece was that what appeared to be a 24hr block party on the surface was actually a clandestine demonstration. Hodge and Pyle parlayed their artistic cache into political action and very subtly enlisted their artistic entourage into helping them reclaim the space. From what I observed and heard, it was neither a defensive nor a confrontational act. There were no shouts or accusations between the usual denizens of the stop and the TBG's retinue. Both artists are from Houston and are aware of the complex history and politics of the Third Ward as well as the artistic communities ambivalent relationship to the drug trade. In fact, I doubt if most of the participants realized what their participation was actually accomplishing. It was a positive protest in which Hodge and Pyle created the future they envisioned for this spot and for the Third Ward in general. TBG co-opted the Art Guy's Stop-N-Go performance and turned it into a positive protest by reclaiming the public space and making it one of camaraderie and friendship, which to fully appreciate, you had to be there.

Planned Obsolesce, Alex Tu's show at the Civic TV Collective wasn't a performance per se. It was a standard opening with an after party in situ. If you breezed by, glancing at the work, chatting with many artists and art appreciators that stopped by, snacking on the pigs head and roast duck, grooving to the DJ, and then moving on, you might have missed something, like the art.

Like TBG's piece, Tu's photographs were appropriations of other works of art/images. They are grainy images enlarged to monumental proportion. These images were once important political and cultural symbols. Now they are backdrops, the visual equivalent of elevator music, artistic white noise. The image of Mao has gone from a potent political symbol, to a pop art icon, to the artistic equivalent of a still life assignment: every art student has to add one to his/her oeuvre.

Idol Gazing At Himself Television infomercial for prosperity and fortune generating golden statue, Beijing, 2012 

The obelisk's significance has gone soft from over use by purveyors of national pride.

Empty Obelisk Transmitting Light Globally/CCTV, Beijing 2012 

The images of lush beaches have grown tired and cancerous, succumbing to the over exposure as a stand in for a purchasable paradise.

Prosperity and Good Fortune in the First World, mural found above meat department at a Chinese American supermarket in Alief, Houston 2012

Further contributing to the work is the site itself. The location of Civic TV Collective is in what was previously Chinatown, but has been recently re-christened as EADO. Like the images in Tu's show, it remains the same geographic location and yet it has been transformed. It's context has changed. The pig's head and roasted duck from one of the last Chinese grocery stores in the area provide sensual remembrance, a taste and smell, of things passed and passing.

The context of old China town and Tu's appropriation and recontextualizing of these ubiquitous images exposes their dubious futures. Do the symbols go on to live in perpetuity in the pop lexicon? Do they pass into oblivion? Are they reborn with a new cogency, a new artistic agency? And Chinatown, what of its future? Does it become a site of urban renewal that retains its current residences and welcomes new ones? Or are the denizens displaced and relocated? Does everything eventually evolve into rebranded EADO whatever that entails?

Planned Obsolesce, the title of Tu's work, begs those questions. I'm not sure how many of the audience struggled to answer them. Tu, himself, was taciturn and thoughtful. Directing people to the food and beer and chatting about any topic but the work. However, as with TBG's performance, if you stuck around for a little while and engaged the work, observed where you were and contemplated why the artist chose that work for that place, you might have discovered that you had unknowingly become part of the performance / piece itself.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Nostalgia Corner: Iron Shrapnel Man

Robert Boyd

I promise I will get back to writing about art soon. I just got back from New Orleans where a saw a whole bunch of art, some of it pretty good! But a couple of days ago, I made a discovery that I had to share. I learned that the The Portal to Texas History, an online repository of scanned publications, documents and images from Texas, has a pretty good run of the Rice Thresher (Rice University's student newspaper), including issues from fall 1985. (Thanks to Scott Gilbert for pointing this out.)

As it happened, I was at Rice in fall 1985. At the time, I was a "senior" actively weighing my options, which were: should I draw some comics or smoke another bowl? Occasionally, I decided to draw some comics, which were then published in the Rice Thresher. The character, Iron Shrapnel Man, came from a dream that my old friend John Richardson had. He told me that he had dreamed that I had created a character called "Iron Shrapnel Man." I figured that if I had invented him in John's dream, that was sort of like inventing him in real life. (I realize now that this is ethically shaky ground--sorry, John!) I literally haven't seen these comics since they were published. Here they are:

(OK, I was trying to be satirical but I think this could be read either way. Not very good satire, then. I was strongly influenced--practically to the point of plagiarism--by Gilbert Shelton's hilarious Wonder Wart-Hog comics.)

(For some reason, psychology had a reputation as an easy major at Rice. If I had been honest about it, I would have made him an art major. Period note: people thought Communism still mattered in the 1980s.)

(I'm pretty sure I stole the joke in the last panel. Also, I'm not sure why I suddenly changed the format. Probably because I was high.)

(The second panel was a direct swipe of Wonder Wart-hog. Damn that Gilbert Shelton was good. Also, the letter published directly above this strip is from me, complaining bitterly about the editorial policy of the then editor in chief and suggesting that students vote him out in the next election. On an unrelated note, I later learned that the Thresher staff had lost all my original art.)

This was the last Iron Shrapnel Man. The bowl won. I dropped out and ran off to Africa, ending the first chapter of my wildly checkered college career. Eventually Rice gave me a degree, so all's well that ends well. As for Iron Shrapnel Man, these six strips demonstrate quite well why I never became a professional cartoonist.

Betsy Huete’s Top Ten of 2014

Betsy Huete

Sure, there are a lot of top ten lists out there, and in the last week or so they’ve come in droves. I’ve seen the top exhibitions of the year several times over from all different kinds of people, websites, blogs; the top ten art lists from Hyperallergic; Artnet’s fifty most interesting artists and most important essays; and so on. Hell, Robert even posted two top ten lists in the past week or so—one on comics and one on art books. So, surprise, surprise! I’m throwing my hat into the ring with my top ten pieces exhibited in Houston in 2014. Like last year, I’m being really specific, picking individual works instead of exhibitions. There have been many times, just like last year, where the exhibition as a whole either didn’t stand out to me or I didn’t have anything specific to say about it, yet a piece or two individually did something really special. Here they are:

10. Karyn Olivier, Still Life Series (Matinicus), 2014, How the Light Gets In: Recent Work by Seven Core Fellows at the Glassell School. These series of photographs are images of things that, in themselves, aren’t very interesting. Blemished painted foam, colored mirrors, and colored papers are a few objects that Olivier has arranged and photographed in various ways. But the precision of the photographs, like this one in particular, as well as the arrangement makes it look delectable, like cake.

Courtesy Devin Borden Gallery

9. Clark Derbes, Charlie, 2014, American Sculpture at Devin Borden. As a whole, this exhibition at Devin Borden seemed pretty tame and unassuming, which made Charlie stand out all the more. Derbes normally paints onto found wood, which is what he has done here. The truncated piece of wood twists, and the application of the colorful checkers make the whole piece feel elastic and dynamic. I have no idea who Charlie is or his relationship to Derbes, but if he’s anything like his sculpture, I want to meet this guy.

Courtesy Art Palace

8. Deborah Roberts, Buttress, One and Many at Art Palace. A collaged creature-woman floating in a large field of putrid gold abstraction, Roberts’ Buttress is brazenly disharmonious. The slightly slumped shoulders of the woman command our empathy with her vulnerability while still looking vile and distorted.

 (Photo by Adam Clay)

7. Carter Ernst, HOOT, Texas Sculpture Group 2014: A Panoramic View, Lawndale Art Center. Tucked in a corner on the second floor of Lawndale during the Texas Sculpture Group Exhibition, stood this larger than human height, fabric-covered owl. It felt huggable, until I stared into its bulbous, mirrored eyes. Ernst’s owl feels cute and ominous, and it reminds me a little of those giant puppets that used to play at Show Biz Pizza.


6. Hito Steyerl, How Not To Be Seen: A Fucking Didactic Educational .MOV File, 2013, Collective Reaction: FotoFest 2014, The Station Museum. With How Not To Be Seen…, Steyerl conveys exciting ideas about the intangible image as a physical material, and thereby questions what happens with our material bodies as we continue to communicate increasingly via images and pixels. She enumerates—within this framework—on how to disappear in not only a compelling but humorous way, suggesting that one could disappear by being a woman over the age of fifty.

Courtesy Inman Gallery

5. Angela Fraleigh, we held hands beneath the dirt, 2014, Ghosts in the Sunlight, Inman Gallery. Whatever is going on with this woman’s expression, which is deliberately unclear, we as viewers can’t help but wonder what’s happening to her, what she’s doing. With cropping, Fraleigh smartly gives us only partial access to this woman, effectively turning this painting from fully representational to an abstraction.


4. Julia Brown, The Dancer, 2014, The Core Exhibition 2014, The Glassell School. Brown doesn’t do much in this video: she simply points and shoots at a pre-pubescent girl dancing to a hip hop song. We see the girl practicing, running through some of the dance moves with ease and faltering through others. The girl eyes us in the camera, flitting from childlike innocence to the sexuality of a grown woman. Here, Brown simply and cleanly nails what it feels like to be an adolescent girl. I remember watching this the first time, actively cringing while also nostalgically reflecting on the slumber parties I would have with my best friends, staying up all night practicing N*SYNC choreography. Ok, that was last week.


3. Dylan Roberts, Bully, Beyond Graphite: Fab 15 + Performance, G Gallery. Bully is a putrid mixed media painting of skin-like pinks and reds with a seemingly wheat-pasted neon yellow drawing on top of it. The drawing is intricate and strange. The material underneath looks like melting plastic, like pimply, bubbling skin. Every time I look at this piece I want to vomit, which is why it is my number three pick.


2. Wu Tsang, Moved by the Motion, 2014, Moved by the Motion, DiverseWorks. With Moved by the Motion, Tsang has constructed a dual projection short film with a loose narrative around the gender-ambiguous performer boychild. The film is unabashedly, almost absurdly, queer. Boychild—sensual, confusing, disgusting, beautiful, sexual—commands our attention, and it was impossible to stop watching her. Also, the beanbag chairs were exceptionally comfortable.


1. Paul Kittelson, Lawn Chairs, 2014, True North, Heights Boulevard esplanade. Let’s not lie. Public art can be boring. That’s usually because it has to filter through several committees first (see HAA fiasco), becoming a soulless skeleton of the artist’s original intent. But Kittelson’s lawn chairs sweetly garnered everyone’s attention and sense of nostalgia, making passersby squeal with glee as they climbed (illegally) onto the giant chairs, flailing their legs around as if they were little kids.